The Democrat primary that the GOP should fear

Listen to this story (9 minutes)

  • Liberals mobilize to defeat Democrat Wake District Attorney

You have to wonder what Franklin Freeman is thinking these days.

From the 1990s through 2008, Freeman was at the center of power in state government and the North Carolina Democratic Party.  He built his career in part by holding criminals accountable and keeping them behind bars.

Franklin Freeman became a close advisor to former Governor Jim Hunt and served as secretary of the state of the Department of Corrections during Hunt’s 1993-1997 term. He was North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley’s top confident from 2001 to 2009. He briefly served on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Now he is witnessing the most liberal elements of the Democratic Party, a party to which he has dedicated his professional life, seek to destroy the political career of his daughter, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman. Lorrin Freeman is also a loyal Democrat, having served as Wake County Democratic Party chair in the 2000s.

Yet Freeman, now running for her third term as Wake County’s elected district attorney, is being targeted by the far left of the Democratic party.

Among the liberal groups targeting Freeman is Emancipate NC, a group with ties to Black Lives Matter that seeks to end “mass incarceration and structural racism.” The Assembly recently wrote of Freeman coming under attack from progressive criminal justice reformers:

“As she seeks a third term, Freeman faces rapidly shifting political winds. Across the country, progressive district attorneys have curbed low-level drug prosecutions, overhauled bail policies, and reduced prison populations. 

Criminal justice reform advocates expect the same in Wake County and see Freeman falling short,” wrote Jeffery Billman for the Assembly. 

Billman is also the former editor-in-chief of the liberal INDY Week, which has endorsed Freeman’s Democratic opponent in the primary. INDY Week is supporting a Republican turned Bernie Bro, Damon Chetson, who has said he will not seek the death penalty in Wake County no matter the circumstances.

“Disappointing would not be a harsh description,” Dawn Blagrove of Emancipate NC said of Freeman’s performance on progressive criminal justice priorities.

“We have had a district attorney’s office that was blind to the disparate impact and touch that law enforcement inside of Wake County has with Black and brown people,” Blagrove told WTVD. “We have had a district attorney’s office who is unwilling to acknowledge the over-policing in our community, and we’re tired of it.”

Liberals are critical of Freeman for occasionally seeking the death penalty, and recently succeeding in getting a Wake Jury to deliver a sentence of death. When Democrats controlled the General Assembly, they passed the misnamed “Racial Justice Act,” which had “little to do with race and nothing to do with justice,” as former State Rep. Skip Stam would often say when attacking the measure.  The measure was repealed by GOP lawmakers, but the legal fallout and Democrat-controlled courts have halted executions since 2006.

According to NC Policy Watch, liberals are still angry that Freeman’s office successfully tried a capital case in 2019. Seaga Gillard was sentenced to death for a double murder in a Raleigh motel as reported at the time by WRAL reported

The Director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, Gretchen Engel said in a statement that the death sentence was arbitrary and disproportionately affects black men; Gillard is black.

Her statement pointed out that the death penalty had not been imposed in some other double-murder cases, nor in a case involving the murder of five people. 

“Since taking over as Wake district attorney, Lorrin Freeman has pursued the death penalty more than any other prosecutor in North Carolina, costing taxpayers millions of dollars,” Engel said. “That is a poor investment, even in this case.”

“At this point, the death penalty continues to be the law in North Carolina,” Freeman said. “As I have discretion in what types of cases to seek it, we reserve it for the most egregious.” 

Chetson said that if elected, he wouldn’t seek the death penalty, according to NC Policy Watch.

In endorsing Chetson the INDY Week wrote:

“We like incumbent Lorrin Freeman. She is an honest, even-tempered, forthright public servant who takes the work of her office seriously.

But a progressive, reform minded DA Freeman is not. Freeman prosecutes low-level drug possession and opposes a bill that would prohibit juveniles from receiving life sentences. In the past, she has sought the death penalty, which she says, ‘should be reserved for the most egregious cases.”

As a progressive publication, we don’t feel we can endorse a prosecutor who will seek the death penalty. And although Freeman notes that her office has not declared a case capital since 2017, she has tried six capital cases before a jury during her tenure as DA, resulting in one death sentence for a man convicted of a double murder at a Raleigh hotel.

Chetson, Freeman’s challenger, is reform-minded—if not, as a former Republican-turned-Bernie volunteer, terribly exciting. But he’s sound on reform and opposes capital punishment. That makes Chetson the clear choice.”

INDY Week leaves out the fact that the ACLU and other organizations supporting Chetson have a history of supporting very liberal prosecutors that are viewed as so soft on crime, liberal communities are seeking to recall them.

The leader of Demand Justice, a liberal activist organization opposing the re-election of D.A. Lorrin Freeman praised the unprecedented Supreme Court leak indicating the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights may be overturned in the near future.

“SCOUTUS leaks are good,” tweeted Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice.

“Elite lawyers on both the left and right treating the Court as precious all these years have just been giving cover to an institution that is wholly unaccountable. Rip the veil off,” Fallon added in his tweet.

Reading her campaign website, Freeman attempts to strike a balance of successful North Carolina Democrats of old, such as Jim Hunt, Mike Easley, and Roy Cooper focusing on tough on crime measures. Her website proclaims Freeman “Cracked down on the increase in violent crime, while creating a mental health diversion program that prioritizes treatment compliance and allows for dismissal of the underlying charge if they maintain compliance.”

The Democratic primary for Wake County’s District Attorney may now be the most dangerous race for Republicans this primary season. Conservatives can find fault with Freeman. In 2021, Wake County prosecutors lost five of 12 murder trials, with two of their seven wins ending with manslaughter convictions. Prosecutors scored convictions in 69% of the 55 major felony cases, including 26 murders, they tried from 2019 to 2021. At times Freeman’s office is either charging people for serious crimes that her office can’t prove, or her office is failing to win convictions they should have. Or perhaps both.  However, there is no indication Freeman’s office performs much better or much worse than other elected prosecutors across the state. Freeman’s office could have done more to hold those to account who ransacked, looted, and rioted in downtown Raleigh in 2020. Yet she is a serious person, who clearly understands the critical role her office has in keeping Wake County safe. She has resisted calls to let violent criminals back on the streets before trial.  She is not a crusader looking to change the system in ways that fundamentally risk the lives of innocent Wake County citizens in a bow to the secular woke gods.

Republicans have not won a countywide race in Wake County since 2014. Wake has no history of electing a GOP district attorney. The winner of the Democratic primary is likely to be Wake County’s elected district attorney going forward.  

When it comes to law and order, is the Democratic party of Hunt, Easley, Perdue, Cooper as well as Franklin and Lorrin Freeman dead?

You best pray not.

The Woodshed is a column by Dallas Woodhouse and opinions expressed within the content are his and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Carolina Journal.

More from Dallas Woodhouse